If you have followed my recent articles, you’ve heard me talk about endocrine disruptors. They are compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and throw off healthy hormonal balances. Today, it seems that sources of endocrine disruptors are everywhere: our food, our water and household products we use everyday.
The endocrine system is delicately balanced and intricately arranged. Every hormone is affected by the level of another. Hormonal imbalances have wide-ranging health effects.
Sperm counts have fallen by 50 percent in men in industrialized countries. Boys are growing breasts, 7 percent are now born with undescended testicles and 1 percent with penile deformity.
Children are reaching puberty younger than ever. Endometriosis (which can contribute to a woman’s inability to conceive) and reproductive organ abnormalities are on the rise.
Hormonal imbalances are linked to cancers of the prostate, breasts and ovaries. They are involved in osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Member scientists of the Endocrine Society issued a report in which they claim:
“We present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.” (1)
The negative health effects of endocrine disruptors are so widespread that endocrine disruptors, according to an analysis in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, cost the United States over 2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) — a median of $340 billion annually. Researchers predict these numbers are even lower than the reality, since only a portion of endocrine-disrupting chemicals were analyzed. (2)
What Do Endocrine Disruptors Do?
Endocrine disruptors are often referred to as estrogen-mimickers or xenoestrogens. They “mimic” the effects of true estrogen, linking to receptor sites and contributing to estrogen excess or block the effects of true estrogen. Some endocrine disruptors mimic testosterone or block other hormone activity.
Researchers have found that endocrine disruptors can wreak all kinds of havoc even in very small concentrations and that they can pass from one generation to the next.
Endocrine disruptors lodge in fat cells, and they are resistant to breakdown. They affect sleep, stress, metabolism and mood.
Chemicals that are endocrine disruptors also act synergistically; that is, in combination they are concentrated and devastating causes of disruption in the body.
Sources of Endocrine Disruptors
The biggest sources of endocrine disruptors are chemicals in our environment. There are more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use today. Less than one percent have been tested for health effects. Over 1000 more are introduced into our food supply every year.
Only 11 percent of compounds used in personal care products have been researched for health effects, and household cleanser makers aren’t required to disclose complete ingredient lists.
Birth control compounds make their way into our water and are de-sexing fish and other aquatic life. Animals farther up the food chain end up with more concentrated doses of endocrine disruptors, and we (at the top of the chain) end up with the highest percentage of these chemicals.
Pollution, medications, plastics and health and beauty products contain these compounds. Even organic fruits and vegetables can pull in pollutants from the air, water and soil. Hormone-laden animal products, processed and refined foods, low-fiber diets and obesity all contribute to hormonal imbalances.
How to Avoid Excess Estrogen
Avoid plastics: Plastics contain endocrine disruptors that leach into food and water, particularly when heated. Opt for glass when possible and don’t heat food in plastic containers or coated paperboard. University of Missouri analysts studying breast cancer growth found that a brand of water bottled in plastic caused a 78 percent increase in the cancer cell proliferation. Grecian researchers at the University of Ioannina found that after heating olive oil for 10 minutes at full power; 604.6 milligrams of the plasticizer DOA leeched from the plastic wrap into the oil. Researchers Oi-Wah Lau and Siu-Kay Wong found that the fat content in cheeses caused the migration of plasticizers from cling wrap to increase exponentially: 60 percent after 10 minutes of microwave heating. Buy fresh rather than canned foods as they are often lined with dangerous plastics.
Use safe household cleansers: Buy environmentally safe laundry detergents and dishwashing liquid. You can also make your own cleansers of every type, like all-natural laundry soap, oven cleaner and multi-purpose cleaner. Back off on the antibacterial boom and use less chemical disinfectants.
Reduce antibiotics: Doctors have been known to prescribe antibiotics for viruses when they have absolutely no effect. This is to make use of the placebo effect more than anything.
Think about birth control: Choosing a more natural approach to birth control is safer than hormonal forms of contraception. Conventional birth control pills work by putting synthetic forms of estrogen and progestin into the body. Adding unnatural hormones throws off the natural hormone balance in the body, resulting in unwanted side effects.
Read your health and beauty product labels: We absorb estrogen-mimickers through the skin at 10 times the rate we would orally. “Natural” and “organic” labels mean very little on these products since they are virtually unregulated. Avoid alcohols, parabens, DEA, MEA, TEA, ureas, petroleum, glycols, sulphates, phthalates and phosphates. You can also check out common products at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety database.
Change your diet: What we eat and drink has a great deal to do with how many hormone disruptors we end up with. Anti-estrogenic diets have three major components: eating farther down on the food chain, eating less processed and chemically-laden foods and supplementing your diet with compounds that decrease estrogen excess and help your body to eliminate added hormones.
- Avoid processed and refined foods. Besides the many food additives and chemicals that processed and refined foods contain, the lack of fiber and extra sugar overwhelm your colon and liver so that circulating hormones are reabsorbed rather than eliminated.
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides. Buying organic can limit your intake of endocrine disruptors in and on fruits and vegetables.
- Buy “American Grassfed” animal products. “Organic,” “natural,” “free-range” and “raised without antibiotics” are all terms that are being widely and wildly exploited right now. Tyson injects eggs with antibiotics and claims its chickens are technically “raised without antibiotics.” “Free-range” doesn’t necessarily mean that animals have access to grass, and “natural” doesn’t mean anything at all when it comes to animal products. Big business is trying to muscle in on the “organic” niche, so regulations are being stretched to accommodate genetically engineered feed and other violations. The American Grassfed Association pushed for regulations that really add up to something, so this label is your best bet.
- Go raw. The more fresh vegetables you eat, the lower you’re eating on the food chain. Toxins accumulate in the tissues of animals. Fresh veggies have a whole host of health benefits as well as deflecting xenoestrogens. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cabbage, contain flavones and indoles that are particularly effective at battling estrogen excess.
- Buy local. Local farm methods are more transparent and accountable than big industry. They’re often a safer bet even if they haven’t been certified organic. DDT was banned as a pesticide in the US, but we still produce it and sell it to other countries. Much of the produce on our supermarket shelves comes from overseas. Megafarms in the US regularly use estrogen in their feed for cattle, pigs and chickens.
- Avoid soy. We’ve all come to think of soy as a healthy alternative for protein and calcium. In fact, as a subsidized crop, soy has become so prevalent in so many foods that allergies are on the rise. It hides on labels as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lecithin, starch and vegetable oil. Soy is a source of phytoestrogens. Because we are exposed to it so much in all of our foods (and health and beauty products), it is becoming an endocrine disruptor (Fermented soy has less detriments and more nutrients.)
Chemicals might be just about everywhere, but you can make simple changes that greatly reduce your personal load of endocrine disruptors and what you pass on to your children.